There are two ways for Partygate to end. Either Boris Johnson resigns, at some point; or the various inquiries, investigations, media and political processes eventually grind to an exhausted halt in the sands of ambiguity, ridicule and time. Hence the jokes about cake and the pleas to await the results of an inquiry which is neither independent nor entirely trusted. That is the context into which the latest argument, about the timing of the publication of Sue Gray’s investigation and the Metropolitan Police intervention, must be placed.
At the moment, the prime minister is keen to show no signs of vulnerability. After a brief and uncharacteristic display of contrition (real or otherwise), he has reverted to his usual bullish, boosterish self, for good or ill. He likes the commentary about him “coming out fighting”. He has been reminding his party of how he won the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2019 general election, and many of his MPs that they owe their seats and their ministerial abilities to his unique gifts, the flip side of his flaws.
He has used the additional time afforded by the Sue Gray investigation and subsequent delays to launch new “red meat” initiatives (albeit to mixed reviews), to set up a shadow whipping and Operation Save Big Dog initiative, to charm and strong-arm his critics, and start to look for fresh routes out of his problems. The tensions in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis are used to shore up his position. Soon he may cancel the scheduled increase in national insurance contributions to appease his backbenchers.
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